Health science and nutritionists are beginning to understand the importance of the role of antioxidants in human health. Basically, antioxidants are compounds that help neutralize free radicals in the body. What we need to understand is what are free radicals and why is it important to neutralize them.
Free radicals are compounds formed in the body from the metabolism of oxygen; a process called oxidation. They are also formed in response to cigarette smoke, air pollution, stress, radiation and other factors. Free radicals are unstable molecules. They have lost an electron and that is what makes them unstable. Free radical molecules will seek to stabilize themselves by taking an electron from another molecule near them. This then destabilizes a normal tissue molecule and damages the tissue; skin, blood vessel, organ, etc. This sets off a chain reaction with each destabilized molecule in turn destabilizing another causing further damage. The damage is seen mostly as inflammation which causes a whole host of problems in the body. Antioxidants interrupt this chain reaction and stop the tissue damage. Some researchers feel the term "anti-inflammation" instead of "antioxidant" is more appropriate. Natural and food source antioxidants act to slow down the inflammatory process and to help prevent inflammation in healthy cells. This potentially explains their possible role/link in cancer prevention, vascular and cardiac diseases, diabetes, and other diseases.
The body does produce its own antioxidants which are our own protective mechanism. With the added stressors we now face in everyday life additional levels of antioxidant are needed. One of the focuses of research now is to decide which types of antioxidants are beneficial and how much of these antioxidants are needed. As with most things, too much of a good thing can becomes a bad thing. There are thousands of different types of antioxidants and not all have the same benefits. There are types of antioxidants called anthocyanins which have been shown to be very beneficial. These are the compounds that give fruits their red to dark purple color. Elderberries and aronia berries have a very high concentration of anthocyanins. Higher than any other berry other than the acai berry.
This is a very simple explanation of antioxidants and much more in depth information can be found on the web.